The late Sergio Toppi might be the greatest Italian illustrator you’ve never heard of. His depictions of knights, samurai and Native Americans never quite made it into the U.S. market — in contrast to his countrymen like Milo Manara, Paulo Eleuteri Serpieri, Tanino Liberatore, and Massimiliano Frezzato. It’s no coincidence that those artists have been published by Heavy Metal often over the years. Toppi is a different beast — his work has a more expressionistic feel to it. Though he was clearly capable of flawless reproduction, his faces are often mildly distorted, and his characters are often awkwardly posed. He was a master of hatching and pattern, and his colors were vibrant and trippy. He’s got more in common with Ralph Steadman, Bill Sienkiewicz. Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt than with his Italian contemporaries — and yet he’s very clearly different from those four guys as well.
The best summary of his work we can find (in English) is at Lambiek Comiclopedia. Lion Forge plans to publish a seven-volume library The Collected Toppi — the first (“The Enchanted World,” with an introduction by Sienkiewicz) came out in November, and the second (“North America”) is due in July.
Toppi illustrated two tarot decks, the Tarot of the Origins and the Universal Tarot; according to Tarocks.com both decks were published in 1991 by Lo Scarabeo. The Tarot of the Origins features tribal warriors, shamans, idols and animals. The Universal Tarot deck is much different, drawing its imagery from a variety of eras. While many figures seem to be medieval or renaissance, The Devil wears a tuxedo and sunglasses, and Death looks like a hockey goalie with a scythe. It’s a stunning example of (and introduction to) Toppi’s style at its pinnacle. If you want to buy Toppi’s Universal Tarot deck, or his Tarot of the Origins, well, search the usual suspects — eBay, Amazon, et cetera. You might be able to find a deck for several hundred bucks, maybe even a thousand. Unfortunately, we do not sell this in the Heavy Metal shop, though we would if we could.
Here’s a look at the cards from Toppi’s Universal Tarot. If you dig tarot — wow. If you just like amazing illustration — double wow. Enjoy: